Early last year, LinkedIn co-founder and prolific venture capital investor Reid Hoffman called Chris Urmson “the Henry Ford of autonomous vehicles (AV).” The vote of confidence and big check from Hoffman, coupled with a team of deeply knowledgable AV entrepreneurs, has catapulted his company, Aurora Innovation, squarely into “unicorn” territory.
Aurora, the developer of a full-stack self-driving software system for automobile manufacturers, is raising at least $500 million in equity funding at more than a $2 billion valuation in a round expected to be led by new investor Sequoia Capital, according to a Recode report. A $500 million financing would bring Aurora’s total raised to date to $596 million and would provide a 4x increase to its most recent valuation.
The company, founded in 2016, raised a $90 million Series A last February from Hoffman’s Greylock Partners and Index Ventures . Hoffman and Index general partner Mike Volpi joined Aurora’s board as part of the deal. Greylock and Index are Aurora’s only existing investors, per PitchBook data. The young business has a lean cap table often characteristic of startup’s led by experienced entrepreneurs able to secure financing deals briskly from top VCs.
Aurora’s C-suite is chock-full of veteran AV workers. Urmson, for his part, formerly headed up the self-driving vehicles program at Google, now known as Waymo. Chief technology officer Drew Bagnell was head of perception and autonomy at Uber and
“Between these three co-founders, they have been thinking and working collectively in robotics, automation automotive products for over 40 years,” Hoffman wrote in a blog post announcing Aurora’s Series A funding.
In addition to the high-caliber of the founding team, Aurora’s collaborative approach to building self-driving cars has attracted investors, too. The company has partnered with a number of automotive retailers to integrate its technology into their vehicles and make self-driving cars a “practical reality.” Currently, Aurora counts Volkswagen, Hyundai and Chinese manufacturer Byton as partners.
2018 was a banner year for VC investment in U.S. autonomous vehicle startups. In total, investors poured $1.6 billion across 58 deals, nearly doubling 2017’s high of $893 million. Around the world, AV startups secured $3.41 billion, on par with the $3.48 billion invested in 2017, per PitchBook.
Though we are just days into 2019, LiDAR technology developer AEye has completed a previously announced $40 million Series B. The Pleasanton, Calif.-headquartered company raised the funds from Taiwania Capital, Kleiner Perkins, Intel Capital, Airbus Ventures and Tychee Partners. And last week, Sydney-based Baraja, another LiDAR startup, brought in a $32 million Series A from Sequoia China, Main Sequence Ventures’ CSIRO Innovation Fund and Blackbird Ventures.